HV RBERN conference spotlights Sustaining Multilingualism

Spotlight on Multilingualism

Conference a first, and a success, for Hudson Valley RBERN

When headlines boasted that Great Britain’s Princess Charlotte was already bilingual at the age of 2, the tone was one of amazement and praise for the precocious child’s linguistic prowess.

Dr. Nelson Flores wondered why other English language learners, particularly those from bilingual backgrounds, aren’t always received as positively. When the media reports on the number of English learners in schools, it is positioned as a challenge. But when it is a royal toddler, it’s an asset?

That double-standard is the focus of Dr. Flores’s study at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.

His keynote at the Hudson Valley RBERN’s first conference on “Sustaining Multilingualism in the Hudson Valley," addressed the topic of "Translanguaging Away from Raciolinguistic Ideologies in Bilingual Education.” He drew applause from the capacity audience at the Crestview Conference Center on West Nyack.

Dr. Flores said he grew up bilingual but mainly English-speaking to parents of Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican backgrounds. In high school, he enrolled in Spanish classes only to be told by a teacher one day that students with backgrounds like his were lazy for not pursuing a language they did not already speak. That confused him because he considered himself a native English speaker and wanted to improve the Spanish he learned from his family.

What we see affects what we hear, Dr. Flores explained, using a range of impactful examples. That is true for educators who reach conclusions about their students’ language abilities that may not reflect their true strengths and abilities. 

The conference is a first for the Hudson Valley RBERN (Regional Bilingual Education Resource Network). Based at the Southern Westchester BOCES Center for Professional Development in Harrison, the Hudson Valley RBERN serves a region that extends north and west as far as Cooperstown, covering 144 school districts. A satellite office is also maintained at SUNY New Paltz.

“This conference is an opportunity for us to bring high-level professional development to educators on the subject of bilingual education while also affording them networking opportunities and the chance to hear from leaders in their field of specialty,” stated Carlos Sanchez, Executive Director of the Hudson Valley RBERN. 

Kathleen Lowell, Assistant Executive Director, added that planning for the conference began nearly a year ago. The title centers around sustainability, she said, emphasizing the importance of going beyond the status quo in bilingual education.

In true BOCES fashion, the conference offered a collaborative opportunity. Students from SWBOCES’ Center for Career Services were able to apply skills learned in the TV/Video and Audio Production programs by video-recording the keynote address and breakout sessions.

Sound Production Teacher Sean Harty and TV/Video Production Teacher Michael May oversaw their work, which included collaboration with the conference center's technical staff to ensure a flawless presentation.

Adam Pascual, a student from Woodlands High School, provided sound mixing for the keynote address. 

“It’s definitely a good experience,” Adam said, “especially working with people that are in the field. I think learning that professionalism early on, especially as it allows you to do more with time management and working with other people, that will make you better when you get to college, I would think.”

Jordan Dawkins agreed. Jordan, also from Woodlands, was filming the breakout sessions. She expressed gratitude for the professional opportunity.

“BOCES does give you a lot of work experience, showing you what is going to be like in the real world,” she said.

Breakout session topics at the conference included:

  • “From Academic Language to Language Architecture in Bilingual Classrooms,” by Dr. Flores;
  • “Nurturing the Growth of a Dual Language Program,” by Dr. Matthew Evans, assistant superintendent, Mary Kate Stinehour, principal, and Veronica Serrano, teacher, from Fallsburg Schools;
  • “Know Better, Do Better! Demystifying the Bilingual Evaluation Process,” by Dixelia Lopez of PNW BOCES; and
  • “Transforming Viewers to Doers,” by Kaitlin Roney-Blaine, owner of the Art Center of Rochester.

An afternoon keynote titled “Deficits, Discourse, and Doing,” was presented by Mario Palma, vice president of Multilingual Teaching and Learning and David Burns, director of language acquisition, both of the American Reading Company.

Learn more about services provided to schools by the Hudson Valley RBERN online, by calling 914-345-8500, Ext. 3158, or by email at rbern@swboces.org.